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April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month. While less common than many cancers, oral cancer is quite serious. It has just more than a 50% 5-year survival rate, and a very high rate of redevelopment. It is important to know both the lifestyle and biological factors that contribute to oral cancer development.

Traditionally, oral cancer has most often been found in adults over 40, and a majority of those people are tobacco users. This includes smokers, but also those who use chewing or spit tobacco. Tobacco use may explain why oral cancer is more common in men than women, although those numbers have been equalizing. Alcohol use is also a risk factor, especially when combined with tobacco. In fact, those who use tobacco and drink are 15 times more likely to develop oral cancer than those who don’t. Reducing risk for oral cancer is just one more reason to quit tobacco and alcohol use.

The fastest-growing demographic of people developing oral cancer is young adults under 40 who don’t use tobacco. In this group, the greatest risk factor is the presence of human papilloma virus, or HPV. HPV is a sexually-transmitted virus infecting some 40 million Americans today. Most of its roughly 200 strains are harmless, but the small fraction of people with reduced immune response to the HPV16 strain are at greater risk of developing cancer.

Oral cancer has many other factors, including exposure to UV radiation, diet, and other diseases. For more information about oral cancer and to learn how you can spread awareness, you can visit www.oralcancer.org. Prime Family Dental Care in Laveen, AZ, can also answer your questions and provide recommendations for all aspects of your oral health.